By Vicki Rock Daily American
No matter where the future USS Somerset travels, the ship will carry tangible parts of Somerset County.
The ship has 22 tons of steel from a 7500 Marion Dragline in the bow stem — the ship’s leading edge. In addition, all the valves on the ship were made in Somerset. The USS Somerset will be christened on July 28 at the Huntington Ingalls Industries Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana.
Severstal/PBS Coals land manager John Weir said the dragline’s 14-yard bucket mined millions of tons of coal.
“Now it becomes part of the protection of the U.S.,” Weir said. “The families often said they felt the draglines were overseeing everything at the crash site. Now the bucket is part of a ship that is part of what protects the U.S. from terrorist attacks happening ever again. A big giant piece of hardworking equipment is going to float in the water now.”
After the crash, PBS employees climbed the 120-foot crane to hang American flags from it.
“Chuck Wagner from Camp Alleghenies spearheaded that,” he said. “The late Congressman (John) Murtha supplied some of the flags. His aide, John Hugya, got us the second flag because we couldn’t find one big enough. It was flown in by the National Guard.”
He kept one of the first flags that flew from the dragline. He plans to present it to Barbara Black, chief of interpretation for the Flight 93 National Memorial. When it was determined that the two draglines wouldn’t fit into the design of the memorial, one was sold to another coal company and one was sold to the National Park Service.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk worked for four months to get the steel into the ship. ScrapTrade LLC, a Youngstown, Ohio-based scrap metal recycler, took apart the dragline and delivered it to the shipyard.
“We have physical connections to the ship in addition to emotional connections,” Vatavuk said. “I got frustrated because it was taking so long, but it was worth the effort. We have more of a physical presence on this ship than the other sites have to their ships.”
Parts of the ship were manufactured in Somerset.
Global/SFC Valve Corp. President Bob Kirst said his company’s only customer is the U.S. Navy. The corporation makes valves for lube oil and steam systems for all the ships in the Navy. The valves each weigh up to 45 pounds. There are about 200 on a ship the size of the USS Somerset, a 684-foot-long, 105-foot-wide amphibious ship. The corporation also makes valves and equipment for ships that refuel other ships at sea.
It takes about three to four months from the time raw materials are obtained to machine, weld and test the valves. Two full-time government employees oversee the process. Global/SFC has 38 employees at its location along Cannery Road and 15 at a subsidiary in Seattle.
The future USS Somerset is also known as LPD 25. It is a San Antonio-class amphibious dock landing ship. The LPD 26, also known as the future USS John P. Murtha, will have valves made by Global/SFC. It is under construction in Pascagoula, Miss. Huntington Ingalls Industries also built the USS New York and the USS Arlington.
“There is no other business like this,” Kirst said. “It is unique and exciting. These ships defend our country. This is absolutely exciting and an honor.”
Bill Glenn, spokesman for Huntington Ingalls Industries, said the shipbuilders know and understand the importance of the ship.
“Not only for the men and women of the Navy and the Marines who will serve on it to defend our freedom, but also the shipbuilders respect and honor the heroes of Flight 93,” he said. “Some of the families (of Flight 93) visited the shipyard and wrote notes and messages on the ship to their lost loved ones. It was very humbling and sad. We are humbled as shipbuilders to build a ship in honor of those who were lost that day. While it is great to be able to showcase the work of our shipbuilders, we all will reflect on what happened that terrible day.”
Kirst went to the shipyard last January while the ship was under construction.
“I walked around the belly of the ship, then I borrowed a felt tip marker and on a white beam I wrote my name, Somerset, Pa., and ‘Let’s roll,'” he said. “We are always honored to know that our products are installed on our countries’ warships, but we are especially proud that our equipment is installed on the USS Somerset. Personally, it is a bittersweet event. I am excited that the Navy named this glorious ship after our wonderful county, but I am saddened by the circumstances and those heroes that sacrificed their lives.”
The company made a commemorative stainless steel valve with the inscription “Dedicated in memory of the Heroes who lost their lives aboard Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, from the people of Somerset County, Pa.” It hasn’t been determined if that valve can be placed on the ship or if it will go to the ship’s museum.
It is also a tribute to all the people who helped after the crash: first responders, investigators and those who donated supplies and food for recovery workers, Weir said.
“It’s a real honor for Somerset County, for everybody who baked cookies or a pie,” he said.
Although Weir and Kirst were interviewed separately, the two men had almost identical comments about why Flight 93 crashed in Stonycreek Township.
“It couldn’t have happened in a better place — we have open spaces,” Weir said. “God put it down right there.”
“If they had to put that plane down, and they did, they couldn’t have put it down in a better place,” Kirst said. “There was a reason.”